GUS POYET says a “season to forget” for Steven Fletcher has been tough on the striker both physically and mentally.
Fletcher is out of tomorrow’s crunch relegation clash at Norwich City, as Sunderland still await news on the severity of the ankle injury which the Scotland striker sustained in last weekend’s stalemate against Crystal Palace.
Poyet admits Fletcher has never been fully fit during his five months at the helm, with the 26-year-old troubled by shoulder, Achilles and now ankle problems after missing the start of the campaign with another ankle injury.
And the Sunderland boss believes that succession of injury troubles has taken away the edge which saw Fletcher net 11 times during his maiden campaign at the Stadium of Light – a loss which has been a mental blow for the former Wolves man.
Poyet told the Echo: “It’s tough because the difference between teams and players is very little in the Premier League.
“If you lose that little bit, you pay the price.
“It’s been frustrating for him as well. You can see it and feel that frustration.
“When you’re playing at the top, top level, you need to be fit.
“At the beginning, he had a shoulder problem, but then, somehow, he worked through the pain and he played without too many people knowing about it.
“Sometimes he would hold it for a minute and then go on.
“He played like that for two months.
“When he got over that, he had an Achilles injury. We played, played and played him and then it got better when he stopped.
“And then, the other day, he jumped and twisted his ankle when he landed.
“It’s been difficult for him. I hope he finishes the season well, keeps himself fit and starts next season right.”
Fletcher was withdrawn at half-time against Palace and Sunderland are still waiting for the swelling to go down sufficiently to get a clear picture of the severity of the ankle ligament damage.
But the £12million frontman has not suffered any broken bones and Poyet hopes he can feature again before the end of the campaign.
“Next week, we’re going to have a final decision on him,” added Poyet.
“He’s not fit for this weekend. It was quite swollen, so it was difficult to do all the tests.
“It wasn’t very clear. We’re trying to stay calm and see what happens.
“He twisted his ankle and there was a fear that there was some bone issues. There aren’t, that’s for sure.
“But there is some ligament damage. We’ll see next week.”
* Don’t miss the biggest and best coverage of Sunderland’s trip to Norwich, plus Tony Gillan’s View From The Bridge, Brian Patterson’s away guide to Liverpool, Yesterdays and much more, in tomorrow’s online Football Echo – it’s available on sunderlandecho.com from around 6.45pm